Brendan Gillon

5 December 2006
Title: The paradox of implicit arguments
Consider the verb to read. It has two interesting properties. First, it is optionally transitive; second, it gives rise to the following paraphrasal equivalents:
(1.1) Bill read.
(1.2) Bill read something.
This and many other relational words give rise to the following paradox. Either there is only one verb to read or there are two. Suppose that there is only one verb. Let M be the model in which it is to be interpreted. On the one hand, since it is intransitive, as shown in (1.1), its semantic value, like the semantic value of any intransitive verb such as, say, the verb to sleep, must be a set of objects of M's universe. On the other hand, since it is transitive, as is shown in (1.2), its semantic value, like the semantic value of any transitive verb such as, say, the verb to admire, must be a set of the ordered pairs of objects in M's universe. But no model assigns to a single predicate both a set of its universe and a set of ordered pairs of its universe. Alternatively, suppose that there are two verbs, one intransitive, the other transitive. Then, while the intransitive verb to read is assigned a set from a model's universe and the transitive verb to read is assigned a set of ordered pairs from the same universe, there will be models in which neither sentence in (1) entails the other. But surely there are no models of the sentences in (1) where Bill, say, is among those who read but not among those who read something or is among those who read something but not among those who read.
Two attempts have been made to solve this paradox, one by Fodor and Fodor (1980) and the other by Dowty (1981). Both solutions posit that there are two verbs: one transitive, the other intransitive. The equivalence between the two, as illustrated in (1), is established by a meaning postulate, in the case of Fodor and Fodor (1980), and by a lexical rule, in the case of Dowty (1981).
In my talk, I shall first put forth another, more satisfactory solution to the paradox. It holds that there is but one verb to read. Presenting this solution constitutes the first part of this talk. Next, I shall show that many are the relational words tolerating implicit arguments. Such words occur in every lexical class: verb, noun, adjective, preposition and adverb. All these words present the same paradox. And in every case the paradox can be resolved in the same way. The talk closes with a discussion of the import of this solution for the syntrax and semantics of passive.


Dowty, David 1981 `Quantification and the lexicon: a reply to Fodor and Fodor'. In: Moortgat et al. (eds) 1981.

Fodor, Jerry and Fodor, Janet Dean 1980 `Functional structure, quantifiers and meaning postulates'. Linguistic Inquiry: v. 11, pp. 759-769.

Moortgat, M. Hulst, H. v.d., Hoekstra (eds) 1981 The scope of lexical rules. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Foris Publications.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.68.
On 26 Oct 2006, 23:32.